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This is a pretty basic question, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been asked before, so I hope it’s not too basic!

What is the “water” in John 3:5?

...unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (NASB)

I understand that a common interpretation is that “water” is referring to baptism, but I’m wondering what other interpretations are out there!

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  • The context of John 3:5 points to the water made wine in Cana, which relates to the baptism of repentance, the filling up - within - by the word of John the Baptist . . . . unto repentance. Thereafter, water is made wine ; which expresses the 'Spirit'. Water and Spirit. They who experience this inward baptism and inward receipt of Spirit, go forward to be outwardly baptised, publicly. – Nigel J Apr 9 at 5:32
  • the context of Jesus' coming (in water and blood) is nothing to do with baptism or crucifixion. That traditional explanation (of sorts) is lacking. – user48152 Apr 9 at 12:31
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The short answer is that water as used in John 3:5 is a metonym for blood, particularly, the blood of Jesus.

It is important to note that the text of John 3:5, and really, the entire discourse Jesus had with Nicodemus coupled with the narrative that follows in the rest of the chapter, is buttressed on the one side by the story of the changing of water into wine from John 2:11, where the event actually took place, and then on the other side, by John 4:46, where the event is recalled and referenced.

As is commonly known, wine is traditionally made from grape juice, sometimes referred to as the "blood of the grape" (See, e.g. Genesis 49:11 and Deuteronomy 32:14).

Indeed, there is a very graphic comparison to human blood and the vat or winepress where grapes are stomped as a means of releasing the juice from the pulp, as seen in Revelation 19:15 (KJV):

15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Note, however, that just before we are given this startling image of the Messiah trampling the nations in the fury and wrath of God, we are told that His garments are, metaphorically speaking "baptized" in blood.

This shows another connection to the juice of the grape, as being turned into wine, as a symbol for human blood.

In 1 John 5:6-8, we have the following testimony regarding Jesus:

  • That Jesus Christ came by water and blood (and not merely by water, but by water and blood)
  • That the Spirit bears witness of this fact
  • That the Spirit is truth
  • That there are three which bear witness in heaven: The Father, the Word, and the Spirit*
  • That there are three which bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood

Here then we see a connection between the Holy Spirit, that which Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again of, and the water, which Jesus likewise told Nicodemus he must also be born again of, and the blood of Jesus, which makes all of this possible (See, e.g. 1 Peter 1, noting in particular verses 18 and 19, which mention the redemption that occurred through the blood of Christ, and verse 23, which mentions being born again, just as John 3:3-5 details, by the word (or logos) of God, a common, even dominant theme of the Johannine Corpus).

Finally, note John 19:34 (KJV):

34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

This is a reference to a medical condition called hemothorax, caused by the flagellation. After death red blood cells begin to separate from the plasma (For an explanation, see: https://aleteia.org/2019/06/22/a-doctor-on-why-blood-and-water-gushed-from-jesus-heart/).

Here, it is important to note that plasma is approximately 92% water. So, after the red blood cells sank to the bottom of the hemothorax, when the spear was thrust in then removed from Christ's side, they drained first, followed by the plasma, which is to say, the liquid component of human blood, which is nearly totally water.

In conclusion, Jesus, using metonymy, told Nicodemus that he must be born again of water (that is to say, Christ's blood), and the Spirit, or that which causes the blood of the Lord Jesus to sanctify us/make us holy unto God (1 Peter 1:2).

*I am aware of the pros and cons of the Comma Johanneum debate, and while it is important and to a degree relevant, it doesn't have any particular bearing on the point I am making, that water in John 3:5 is a metonym for blood.

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Yours is an extremely important question!

As you pointed out, John 3:5 reads:

“[Truly], truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [baptism] and the Spirit [immersion in the Word] he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (The bracketed notation is to clarify that baptism and revelation by the Spirit constitute our spiritual rebirth.)

Here, it is worthy of note that during physical birth, the fetus grows in physical, impure, amniotic fluid for about 40 weeks, which is analogous to our spiritual birth during baptism -- God does the cleansing. These same ideas are depicted in:

Ephesians 5:26: [Christ] loved the church... so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by [both] the washing of water with the word. The two clauses, the 1) washing of water is baptism and 2) with the Word is the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

We can see examples of this as Noah and his family was "baptized" in the Flood, one that occurred over 40 days and nights (again, remember that we grow physically in fluid for ~40 weeks). As long as they remained inside the ark [the church, their faithfulness], they were protected from the outside world of sin and death, one being cleansed by God with water. Too, the Israelites were "baptized" through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2) after they fled Egypt (Egypt was a symbol of sin), where the Egyptian Army was washed away in the waters.

Further, had Naaman (2 Kgs. 5:14, Lk. 4:27) not obeyed the prophet Elisha's directive to immerse himself 7 times in the Jordan River (the "river of death"), his leprosy (another symbol of sin) would never have been washed away. Naaman's emergence from the water was a "rebirth." A thorough investigation of the symbolism of baptism throughout the Bible will reveal other examples that are quite intriguing.

However, some may fail to recognize such foundational truths. It was the universal practice in the early church that the new convert was baptized immediately. Contrary to what is sometimes taught, baptism is not merely “an outward sign of an inner grace”; such a description never appears in the Bible. A thorough study of the Book of Acts reveals the absolute necessity of water immersion -- baptism, into Christ (Mk. 16:16, Jn. 3:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12, 16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5, Acts 22:16, Rom. 6:3, 1 Cor. 6:11, Gal. 3:27, Eph. 5:26, Col. 2:12, Tit. 3:5, 1 Pet. 3:21, etc.). The concept of an unbaptized Christian is simply nowhere entertained in the New Testament.

When we are baptized, we are cleansed of all our past sins and are raised in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4, 7:6) -- we have "washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:14) and have become sanctified as priests of God (1 Peter 2:9). Thereafter, as long as we walk in the Light of Christ, we are continually cleansed of all sin (1 Jn. 1:7) and all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9) so that we may be presented before God holy, blameless, and beyond reproach (Col. 1:21-22). The text of 1 Peter 2 could not be clearer. When we internalize the Word of God, we are internalizing the Spirit of God; it becomes integral to our cognitive being. We grow in Christ through study, learning, and faithful obedience.

There's a very compelling case to be made from the book of Revelation, something not often appreciated in that symbolic work. I've used bracketed notation to paraphrase:

Revelation 20:6: “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection [baptism into Christ]; over these [Christians], the second death [spiritual death] has no power, but they [Christians] will be priests of God and of Christ [cf. 1 Peter 2:9] and will reign with Him for a thousand years [an indeterminate period: the end of our lives].

Note the last part of the passage that states: “they will be priests of God and of Christ.” We read virtually identical language from Peter’s first epistle (to follow). Although it often seems difficult for us to fathom, given the many, fiery trials we often face, we are reigning with Christ in His Kingdom now (Matt. 23:14, 13:37-42, 44-46, 25:34, 41, Acts 28:30-31, Rom. 14:17, Col. 1:13, 4:11, Heb. 12:28, Rev. 11:15, etc.):

Here is the passage in question, regarding Rev. 20:6:

1 Peter 2:9-10: “[Christians] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The kingdom of Christ is the church, that being portrayed in Peter’s letter, just as it is in the Book of Revelation (20:6). Everyone may become a citizen of the Kingdom by appropriating salvation in Christ through His command to be baptized and immersed in the Spirit (the Word of God).

X.

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  • Two questions. 1. Do you have a reason why being submerged in water is necessary for salvation? 2. Are you equating Word (Logos?) with Spirit? – One God the Father Apr 8 at 20:57
  • You seem to have overlooked flesh and blood cannot enter the K. We can hardly then be reigning now. You quoted the resurrection when the reigning will commence. 1 Peter 2:9-10 is a process underway now, and affirms what God has set aside, us , will be who He says we will, but at Christ’s return when he will begin his reign. – user48152 Apr 8 at 21:08
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    @A. Burg: Every time you find the words “baptism” and “salvation” (or equivalent) in the N/T, baptism always comes first - no exceptions. Only 6 passages meet this qualification: Mk. 1:4 and Lk. 3:3 refer to the baptism of John the Baptist “for the remission of sins”, Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, for the remission of sins”, Acts 22:16, “Arise and be baptized…wash away your sins”, Mk. 16:16, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved..”, and 1 Peter 3:21: “[B]aptism now saves you…” – where “baptism” is differentiated from “removal of dirt from the body” (3:21). – Xeno Apr 8 at 21:14
  • This answer is quoting from scripture but the scriptures quoted are not supporting the argument. This statement - baptism and Bible study are our rebirth in Christ. - is nowhere found in the bible.Nor do any scriptures support it. – Nigel J Apr 8 at 21:36
  • @Xeno Contraire my friend. You said, "Every time you find the words “baptism” and “salvation” (or equivalent) in the N/T, baptism always comes first - no exceptions." Not according to Acts 10:44-48. Peter was speaking at vs44 and the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening. Vs45, "all the circumcised including Peter were amazed BECAUSE the GIFT of Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles. Vs46, they spoke in tongues. Vs47, No one can refuse water baptism for they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did. You have a model of receiving the Holy Spirit BEFORE being baptized. – Mr. Bond Apr 8 at 21:43

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